Posts tagged Steven Niles

Help Gary Friedrich

The War Imposed Upon Us

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Recent Battle Skirmishes

I’m a little behind on putting together some thoughts on recent industry discussion on Jack Kirby, and the situation with Ghost Rider creator Gary Friedrich. The latter has prompted a few changes on this site that have taken some time to put together.  Before we get into all that, here’s a little recap of recent events.

Jack Kirby

A fresh round of community angst seems to have started with creator James Strum calling to boycott Marvel over their mishandling of the Jack Kirby legacy, following in the footsteps of the Steven Bissette call for a similar boycott last summer. We’ve posted about it here and here on this site. Talk about the Kirby legacy saturates the comics web community. As happened with the Bissette controversy, discussions in fandom forums on the Strum boycott quickly degenerated into arguments over the effectiveness of such a measure and whether Jack Kirby even created the characters that comics history gives him credit for. It’s an interesting and all too familiar phenomenon that turns fandom forums into a battleground between publisher supporters and those of creators. A revelry of aggression, confusion, disinformation, distortion and conflict that has nearly paralyzed such calls to action and halted what could have been a more effective display from comics fandom in support of such campaigns.

Gary Friedrich

Then news broke of the judgement on the Gary Friedrich litigation against Marvel for the character Ghost Rider. Daniel Best has posted some reports which can be seen here, that have spread across the comics net and also to some mainstream media. The litigation started around the same time as the release of the first Ghost Rider film Marvel licensed in 2007, starring Nicholas Cage. It ends now on the eve of release of the second film, which looks very much to be a box-office success and one of the popular film events for 2012.

The familiar battleground fodder in the Kirby campaigns managed to overpower debate in this case also, at least if measured by talk at Bleeding Cool forums and The Beat comments, which together seem reliable enough as a compass for the general mood in fandom on these issues. In a counter-suit against Friedrich, Marvel had also won a judgement for payment of $17,000 from Gary in compensation for his profits from selling Ghost Rider covers, posters, art and paraphernalia for the last couple of decades since not having any income from writing comic books.

Part of the discussion is about Marvel’s counter-suit and victory against Friedrich, which is feared to have ramifications and become a serious challenge to creators who even sell sketches of copyrighted characters through their web sites or at conventions – even though it’s been assumed, by unspoken waiver, to be a legitimate means of raising supplemental income for artists. Heidi MacDonald elaborates in this post, which also explains why there’s a considerable amount of back-stage talk that Marvel had no choice given how Gary conducted the case. Marvel seems to be saying this will have no ramifications on other artists. Ty Templeton seems to tow the company line with an “ouch” critique of Friedrich’s case in this cartoon. Steven Bissette disagrees with Ty and the judgement against Friedrich in this Facebook Note.

Tom Spurgeon raises the ante in this reverberation, which is worth reading between the lines…and words.

Community Solidarity to help Gary

Steven Niles, bless his soul, rose to action with a PayPal donation account to help Gary, who has been ill, financially devastated from the trial costs, and is apparently in danger of losing the home he and his family own. The call has been picked up and supported in much larger numbers than what the general mood in fandom hinted at. Neal Adams posted a statement to the comics community urging everyone to pitch in and help give Gary a little financial breathing space. Just to remember that Gary Friedrich is the primary co-creator of a character starring in one of this season’s expected blockbuster superhero movies. The film opened this weekend and looks to be a pretty good production at this stage, on its way to a healthy profit margin.

The campaign to raise funds for Gary Friedrich, given the verdict and judgement against him, seems paramount for the writer’s well-being and that of his family.  Anyone who can donate original art or other items for auction is urged to contact Neal Adams. Paypal donations at Steven Niles site. Please consider helping out.

With that behind us, let’s all sit up for a moment and get a little uncomfortable.

The Lies We Live With

We, the community of fans, journalists and creators, concerned about this and similar issues, have inadvertently become paralyzed by our own reluctance to use tools available to us in order to help improve the conditions we all operate under in the comics industry. We are playing by the rules of the enemy, namely DC and Marvel, who, like most other profit driven corporate entities, have taken advantage of a runaway, renegade and mostly hostile-to-the-common-people world economy, and have brought the comics industry to a state of near demise in order to maximize profits outside of comics publishing, utilizing the properties they get from creators, which they control.

We will remain at near paralysis until we are able to break the unspoken taboo that assumes us beholden to DC and Marvel as industry leaders and foundation stones, whom we are reluctant to confront effectively, on the deeper issues that affect the medium and everyone contributing to it.

The Big Lies

If there was any doubt that DC and Marvel are intentionally keeping the comics publishing business on a death bed for everyone else as well, last summer’s New 52 reboot from DC seems to dispel any remaining confusion. The reboot was preceded with the self-serving trumpet sounds of DC putting comic books back on the map. They said this re-writing the DC Universe would open the market for new readers. They promised to utilize mainstream media, television and cinema advertising to make it popular for everyone to be seen with comic books again. They said it was the dawn of a new day for the comics.

Six months into the hoax and the DC bubble seems to have burst with as little fanfare as being able to claim a slightly larger market share than Marvel for the initial months of the reboot. No new reader base and no serious publicity campaign for the comic books. To make things worse, the hoax was accompanied by a digital sales initiative that’s diverted attention away from the plight of printed comics books and has been followed suit by most every other publisher, cementing a feeling that the printed books are now on notice of termination. That entire hoopla last summer, all that noise and public relations pretension, has effectively died out without improving, not in the very least, nor promising to improve, anything in the business of comics publishing for the common good of the market.

Like everything else DC and Marvel do, they do it for a public relations buzz which only helps their other-than-comics merchandise. That’s all they need to do, really.

The Bigger Lies

DC and Marvel don’t need nor want the business of publishing comics to grow and flourish. Because if it did, then there would be many more Siegel/Shuster/Kirby/Friedrich cases dragging them to spend exorbitant funds to defend their absolute control of the properties and absolute corporate greed. They rather prefer to spend immense resources on lawyers battling creators instead of just being a little more fair with the artists and writers who’ve been the content backbone of the companies, without whom there would be no comics industry.

A perpetually dying medium, especially one that continues to produce raw material for exploitation in other arenas, is the best way to keep getting the raw material at the lowest possible cost. No one will ask for more from a publishing industry hanging by a thread.

Armed with this grim reality, DC and Marvel, owned and managed by the most powerful media conglomerates in the world, can posture themselves as doing “what they need to do” by virtually raping the destitute creators who helped build their expansive property base. And they do it with a brazen enough face that we, the comics community, are left to bicker among ourselves as to the merits of one particular circumstance, while ignoring the larger dilemma that publishers are driving the industry into, effectively paralyzing any action that could put a little more pressure on them to do the right thing for the collective good of the comics industry.

The War Imposed Upon Us

In our near paralysis to help improve the general state of affairs, comics industry activists are not entirely impotent, as evident in the overwhelming grass-roots support to help disadvantaged creators when a need rises. We live with the situation because we are basically at war, even though we are reluctant to acknowledge it. We are at war not only against DC and Marvel, but the entire world population is at war with an economy whose heads have altogether shed any semblance of collective responsibility. We are at war against a prevailing attitude that the strong among humanity have no collective responsibility for the general welfare. At war with the notion that the strong hold the upper legal prerogative to rape and plunder every good portion of this world that their hands can reach.

We are at war but we are not yet training to be soldiers. We’ve settled for being as paramedics who tend to our wounded – but we have few soldiers on the front lines. These few who are fighting the good fight are operating in a near vacuum without the needed full support of populist systems such as the voice of fandom and the comics press behind them…who all tend to agree that something’s wrong and needs to change. But we are not yet fighting the war that’s been waged upon us, which we need to do in order to help bring a change.

Training Ground

I’ve long held that the way we live our lives is itself the training ground for the wars imposed upon us in our journey through this world. I also understand the notion that taking a defensive measure in offence to wars imposed upon us, by itself defines us as warriors also. I’m alright with that, though I understand that a lot of voices in the periphery disagree with the need for such a definition.

Within this outlook on life, I’ve been somewhat of a gypsy soldier in training myself, moving around the comics web community where I’ve been able to try to add something to the talk that stimulates towards seeing the larger picture we’re contending with. The Web Activism section at my Wikipedia biography highlights some of these activities that have been covered in the comics press.

As such that the entire world is our training ground, I’ve not concentrated much on a focal discussion forum for these activities at this site. A previous attempt to start something like that here was apparently too early and suffered a natural fadeout. It may still be too early or entirely unsustainable for such an environment here. But like I hinted at the head of the article, it seems that an imperative move is needed at this juncture. And so, even in suffering a potential fail, I’ve started somewhat of a discussion forum training ground for myself and anyone interested in participating.

Announcing FUSION Fourms

FUSION Forums is a registration-free think tank, at this stage.

Its goal is to take a step beyond discussion, into the realm of web activism on behalf of the common people within the comics industry and beyond.

Its hope is to establish a sort of task force of activists who will slowly saturate the comics web community with the need to take a stand and apply a little more public pressure on the “strong forces” who are waging the war against us.

It may take some time to come together, or it may not do so altogether.

But we will at least have tried to fight back.

If you see the war coming, join us and help prepare yourself and others.

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Warlock Magazine #1

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An excellent new publication from Richard Evans and Co.  Warlock #1 opens with an article by Steve Niles and continues with an impressive collection of comics previews, full stories and articles, including the Open Letter to DC & Marvel from the Comics that launched the campaign, appearing on page 11. Best of fortune to this very fine piece of work.

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For Steve

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I know you’re trying to help but the sounds I’m hearing at the bottom aren’t being helped by it. There is a momentum that can be seized right now and the comics press is missing it by ignoring these voices because they also don’t want to point blame.

The dynamics of the situation are that change will only come if the big players feel the people have had enough. I am entirely convinced that only good will come of this and it can’t harm the industry any more than it’s hurting now. The reason it’s hurting is because the big players don’t feel accountable to the comic book market anymore.

I’m honestly sorry that we’re in this position. I think creators have to stand together. All of us. That’s why we never were able to affect a change when we had a chance in the 70’s. Everyone was looking out for themselves and couldn’t take a chance for improving things for everyone collectively.

DC, Marvel and Diamond will lose nothing by this. In their blind irresponsibility, they have much to gain by being slapped in the face right now and considering a change of policy.

The people have the real power over corporate policy. It’s not the other way around, as it appears now. The people can save this ship, not the conglomerates. We have to allow their voice to be heard.

You are a great achiever who’s made it by your own strength and prowess. Nothing I say takes away from the great push forward you’ve given the medium and the inspiration you are to others. But you also represents something by writing about what creators need to do. In a situation where their voice is being suppressed by the comics press and some of the creator community, that voice has to find an outlet past these roadblocks.

I am convinced that you’re in a position be more direct and vocal without it compromising your standing in the industry. Just the opposite, publishers have shown more respect for many creators speaking out. Who would have believed DC would take back Frank Miller for DK2 and Batman & Robin after everything he said about them on the tails of DKR?

I love with all my being what you are doing and the responsibility you feel on your shoulders. It’s from this point that I say the things I do.

- From talk on Facebook

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steveniles

The Revolution Is Where The Heart Is

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UPDATE: This is Steve Niles’ response to this post. I’ve placed it on top because I believe it’s more important than what I’ve written. Thank you, sir.

Sorry, I don’t see where choosing sides gets us. As I’ve said if I take sides against corporate comics, then I’d just be a hypocrite. Sorry to drive you crazy, but I’m not going to go off the rails just to please people. We have to be smart, slow and steady. If I had a bigger flag to wave, I would. Right now, the entire ship is going down and I don’t want to spend my last gasps of air pointing blame. Again, sorry I’m driving you crazy.

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Or…Why is Steve Niles Trying to Drive me Crazy?

It’s not a secret that I’ve been nominated several times as contender for the crackpot comics creators club, competing with the likes of Steve Ditko, Dave Sim, Neal Adams, Alan Moore, Grant Morrison and Frank Miller.

But is this a good reason for Steve Niles to try to drive me completely over the edge with his comments on the creator revolution?  You’re a good man, Steven. A visionary and skilled writer who is certainly deserving of having been dubbed the king of modern horror, or the writer who’s brought the fright genre back into public appeal. Which lays all the more responsibility on your shoulder when your commentary on the creator revolution is lifted into an embracing but sometimes fluffy comics media as spearheading the movement.  It was your first article that ultimately overshadowed Eric Powell’s video and its after effects are what caused him to remove it. That is a very big responsibility that you bear, good sir.

What’s driving me nuts is that I’m not sure what side you’re on anymore, Steve. Are you with the creator revolution or are you maybe a double agent for publishers and distributors who are doing everything they can so the revolution fails?  That’s the question driving me nearly crazy right now, which I’d like you to also ask of yourself and maybe feel a taste of the lunacy I’m talking about.

Ever since your comment in your first article: “First off, this is in no way an anti-Marvel or anti-DC thing. Those are great publishers to work for if you can find the work.” I’ve been trying to figure out what it is about this sentence that’s trying to drive me to the funny farm. But after reading your most recent entry, I’m almost convinced you want to do me in without even the benefit of a fair therapy session.

You see, Steve, I know that most people who think they’re sane agree with you about the greatness of Marvel and DC. I know it takes a real loony to pierce into the truth and realize that there’s nothing great about them – and that they are only made to appear great by the greatness of the great creators who endowed them with the false notion of their being great. Jack Kirby was great. Stan Lee is great (I know I switched the order but I’m just trying to bring back some balance into what greatness is about). Gene Colan is great. Dave Cockrum was great. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were great. Bob Kane, Jerry Robinson, Arnold Drake, Gil Kane, Carmine Infantino, Denny O’Neil, Roy Thomas, Walter Simonson… all these creators and many more too countless to mention, are great people who don’t need DC and Marvel to be great. They are great because of the greatness within them. DC and Marvel have no such greatness within them, that is not bestowed upon them by these great creators.

And when you spearhead a creator revolution, you have a big responsibility to properly represent the greatness of your brothers the creators – and not pass it on undeservedly to the publishers as if anything they do is great, or as if they are even great to work for.  Working for DC and Marvel is better than being run over by the train of economic oppression, but it’s not great, Steve. Not by a long shot.

But what’s really got me batty today is the statement in your last entry:

The one sticking point for me is that direct digital distribution can potentially cut publishers, retailers and even Diamond out of the revenue flow. This is good news for creators, but not good for those folks, so I’m on the fence.

Somebody help me pull all my hair out please, because I can’t believe you’re saying this Steve.  Are you paying attention to what you’re writing at all? Don’t you understand that DC, Marvel and Diamond have made millions and billions of dollars on the backs of creators, only to shut them out in the cold and end their lives destitute because these publishers and distributors are operating with the stone heart of thieves and liars as they drive the comics business into the ashes of extinction so they don’t have to be fair with the creators who make them look great? Don’t you understand this, Steve?

Don’t you know that by your attitude of “…good news for the creators, but” you’re gonna get me committed to an even bigger hall of insanity than the one everybody tried to put me in before? Is this what you want, Steve? I don’t think I know anymore. Maybe that’s what you’re really trying to do.

And the bottom line is that if the creators benefit a little and publishers and distributors might have their enormous revenue flow affected by it, then this causes you to sit on the fence.

Well…I never!

I never heard about a revolutionary such as you, Steve.  I don’t think there’s a revolutionary in the world who sits on the fence. Revolutionaries know exactly what they’re fighting for. They know exactly where their heart is. Revolutionaries don’t sit on the fence.

I just don’t know what to say anymore, really.  And the worst part is that the weakest part of your position is the one lifted up by the comics media as if it really represents what your brothers the creators are fighting for. As if it is any type of reflection of the voices coming from the comics community who have had it up to the wazoo with publishers and distributors (I’m leaving the retailers out of it because they’re victims themselves) who have callously trampled every good lot in the comics industry. The mainstream comics media has sadly lost touch with its audience, Steve. Your spearheading the revolution with comments like these, is a good example of what’s really thwarting it.

I have an idea. Why don’t you come down from your fence and take a walk with me into the loony bins of comics history. Let’s take a walk into the funny farms of great people who’ve made these publishers look great – and let’s see what shape they’re  really in beneath all the flowery words you write about the revolution.

It’s alright. We can always come back. I’ve done it a few times and they’ve been the greatest lessons that I’ve learned about this industry.

Let’s try to get off of fence and decide, once and for all, what side our hearts really belong on.

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Creator Revolution 1st Semester Grades

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It seems the creator revolution, as dubbed by Heidi MacDonald, is taking a mid-semester break.

It is expected actually because how many really engaging ideas can Indie creators come up with for dodging comics shops and DC/Marvel’s dominance of publishing? Adding to this venue is the stifling notion that most news sites don’t seem interested in the subject as they load their web pages with more and more fluffy and fun news about the colorful projects and creators making headlines.

But I’m of the mind that we have to take ourselves more seriously sometimes, like a lot of us did in school – and that everything doesn’t only have to be fun and fluffy.  In school we had to take things seriously if we wanted good grades.  And I don’t think it’s serious to talk about a creator revolution when we’re in denial about what we’re revolting against.

By default, a revolution means an overthrow of an undesirable regime. So, patting ourselves on the back as if we’re conducting a revolution when we’re acting more like scaredy teenagers seems silly at best. We have to get our hands dirty to start rebuilding our fallen house of comics.

This is my virtual class on the creator revolution, and for lack of anyone else stepping up, I’m going to be the teacher who grades everyone.  Until I see an initiative better than the petition cited at the head of this page, everyone’s grades will be relative to their position on it. No offense really intended to any of the students. If you want a better grade, study the situation with a little more depth to understand why we need to promote and sign the petition. Or you can make your own virtual class and grade it as you like.

Here we go with the class report card.

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Eric Powell: (A+) – Well done Eric for getting the ball rolling with your poignant and hilarious video. The serious message that followed the first… ahem, act… is one of the more inspiring observations the class has seen. Unfortunate that your fellow students couldn’t bear your message and compelled you to remove the video. But it did its job in opening the dialogue and for that you are commended.

Steven Niles: (C+) – That you are an extremely talented writer may not be enough for a good grade in the class of the creator revolution. Your well received article in response to Eric’s video fed the fears of your fellow students and discouraged their courage.  What do you mean by “First off, this is in no way an anti-Marvel or anti-DC thing. Those are great publishers to work for if you can find the work.”?? This is a revolution class! Not for smoochy goochy with DC and Marvel. Let’s do some more homework, sir.

Kurt Busiek: (C+) – You’re also an amazingly talented writer with a lot of credits in comics, but the revolution needs more than good comic books right now. It needs the courage to stare into the eyes of the undesirable way the business is being strangled, dominated and neglected by DC and Marvel who seek greener pastures outside of comics.  Your challenging the teacher’s comments as if to say that the big 2 are working in good faith for the good of the industry, is an extreme case of denial – not the river in Egypt.  It is not the best way to get a good grade in the revolution against an oppressive regime holding down the comics.  A little more consideration of human nature, my good fellow, could help improve the grade in the next semester.

Mike Dubisch: (A+) – You’re a brilliant artist and creator with a heart of gold and courage of a tiger, who drew me into the class with a call to hear me out, after challenging Steven for his kid gloves treatment of DC and Marvel. The revolution needs you Mike, right up there in the top ranks of leadership.

Tom Spurgeon: (A+) – You’re a light to your fellow class members. The clever way you fed the fire of revolt is nothing less than brilliant.  But the articulate speech you delivered to explain what we’re up against will become a lesson for generations to come.

Rik Offenberger: (A+) – You were not only a trailblazer for the comics on the internet, but are now also trailblazing the way for the creators with your excellent interview. With it, you’ve paved the way for the dialogue that needs to now be nurtured amongst the creators, reporters and fandom.

Heidi MacDonald: (B-) – You know I think you’re one of the more promising students, and you are the one who led the charge in spreading the word about the revolution.  But because you take sides in the debate and effectively influence discussion on it, you’ll get a less than excellent grade right now. Chin-up though, a word or two about the petition, which is a viable and reportable story, will go a long way towards taking you to the top of the class… where you really belong.

Rich Johnston: (B-) – You’re also one of the more promising students. And though you haven’t led a charge for the revolution, you did help out with a runaround in the beginning. But it’ll be imperative for you also to fulfill your destiny as a reporter and tell your readers about the petition. There will be no way around that… unless you come up with a better incentive for public pressure on DC and Marvel.  Which I don’t put past you at all.  Either way the grade will improve in accordance with next semester efforts.

Daniel Best: (A+) – You, my friend, are a front line power in the war against publishers who’ve driven the comics into the mud. There isn’t a better researcher who’s mindful of the injustices of the industry to its creators.

Jon B. Cooke: (A+) – Though your contribution will only be known in the upcoming issue of The Jack Kirby Collector, your signing the petition openly is a brave statement by one of the more revered comics historians in the industry.

Comicon Pulse: (A) – Just for being a good fighter and helping pass the word around. You built a great vehicle and community and are destined to do very big things things with them.

J. Caleb Mozzocco: (B+)Your nice words on the open letter are only rivaled by the awesome comment on the beard.  You deserve a better grade but your blog has no contact info in order to send you updates.  What kind of an outfit are you people running at Blog@Newsarama anyway? Shouldn’t you have an accessible link for sending in stories? Let’s get it together guys and plug the petition already.

Fandom: (AAA+) – A special grade for all the special things that you, the fans, do to help spread the word on the petition and campaign…and who are the lion’s share of signatories.  You are the grassroots voice of the people that will guide the comics into victory.  It’s only a matter of time that more creators begin to discover the faith and trust you place in them…and begin to reach for the role of leadership that you know to be their destiny.

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Stephanie Buscema's logo art for Steven Niles' new colum introducing creator owned projects.

How Grassroots Grow

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Recent rumblings around the comics creator community regarding the state of the comics medium are gaining momentum. On our side, the Open Letter to DC & Marvel from The Comics has been mentioned at three of the high profile industry sites:

I sometimes talk to my comic books, but apparently some of the comic books are talking through Michael Netzer.

You probably knew Michael Netzer was an incredible artist and an incredible beard haver, but did you also know he could channel the voices of comic books?

Stephanie Buscema's logo art for Steven Niles' new column introducing creator owned projects.

More extensive coverage of the last few days was delivered twice by Heidi MacDonald @ The Beat, where she highlights Steven Niles first post on supporting creator owned projects, followed by Eric Powell’s video with CREATORS FRONT FOR DIVERSITY IN COMICS. Heidi’s second item on grassroots creators rumblings pretty much agrees with the assessment of DC and Marvel in our open letter. She’s much more diplomatic, however, but her insight encourages a thought on the role of journalism at such a critical juncture that I hope to publish here soon.

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